Spaghetti and Mama’s Meatballs. Photo by Molly Tavoletti.

Echoes of the Cozy Royale catering hall can still be heard in the warm dining room in the back of the bar at Humboldt & Jackson (434 Humboldt Street). The Royale’s former owner, Joanne Perrotta, had turned down many other offers when she was looking to retire. For years, families and neighbors gathered for dinners there, and Perrotta wished to pass on that sense of community along with the space. Perrotta cared more about who was going to take the place over rather than what it was going to be.

The first time I set foot in Humboldt & Jackson was the very day it opened. I followed the renovation of the Cozy Royale into this place, a newly-titled “American Tasting Room,” step-by-step on my daily walk to the Graham Avenue L train and was thrilled to have a prospective place to call my own—my Cheers, if you will. I would cement my status by getting in right at the beginning. Over the three years since their opening I realized that the feeling of ownership and comfort that I felt is exactly what Bill Reed, the bar’s charismatic owner, wants for all his guests.

Owner Bill Reed. Photo by Molly Tavoletti.

Reed’s focus on community and family has rooted Humboldt & Jackson deeply into the fabric of the slowly changing neighborhood. The bar serves as a shifting reflection of how things are, but also a reminder of what they used to be. What sets Humboldt & Jackson apart from other bars in the Graham Ave area is their constant rotation of event programming. Reed specifically chooses events that add value to the community and that offer something new to his guests each time they visit. These events are displayed on a massive letter board that hangs triumphantly in the center of the bar—like a shrine for what the soul of this place is all about.

Fried Stuffed Rice Balls. Photo by Molly Tavoletti.

Humboldt & Jackson has collaborated with high profile restaurants like Roberta’s and Nom Wah Tea Parlor, bringing their sometimes-hard-to-get cuisines to this cozy corner in Brooklyn. In Reed’s words, “I do this so that the guy who lives across the street can walk in here and get something he may have never had otherwise.” Along with food-related collaborations, Reed also hosts monthly events like trivia, TV show screenings, yoga, karaoke, stand up comedy, cook-off battles and pop up brunches, all with his own signature flair and wild sense of humor.

The Burrata with Gremolata, the All American Double Cheeseburger with Fries and the Mac and Beer Cheese with Chorizo. Photo by Molly Tavoletti.

Reed, who came to New York back in the early 2000’s in pursuit of a career in dance, seems born to run a place like Humboldt & Jackson. He is in his element when making each person who walks through the door feel a part of the ever growing Humboldt & Jackson family, so much so that it is hard to imagine him doing anything else. And now, with the opening of the new Brooklyn Steel (319 Frost Street) music venue close by, Reed has reacted to the changing tides of the neighborhood once again. The music venue brought an entirely new group of New Yorkers to his neck of the woods. With few late night food options on that side of Graham Ave, he opened the back room at H&J (normally only used for events) and expanded his menu to offer full dinner and late night snacks.

Spaghetti and Mama’s Meatballs in front of the iconic events board. Photo by Molly Tavoletti.

The menu, a mix of classic American dishes that lean slightly Italian, blends the history of the neighborhood with elements of Reed’s own family. With Reed’s brother Matt now acting as head chef, Humboldt & Jackson is truly the family-run business that Joanne Perrotta had always wanted it to be. Dishes like the Spaghetti and Mama’s Meatballs uses the Reed family recipe for Sunday gravy overtop pasta that is made fresh just a few blocks away at Savino’s Quality Pasta (111 Conselyea St). Their Kale Salad uses the Caesar dressing recipe created by Perrotta herself. And their burger is an updated version of the classic, award-winning smash burger that Matt Reed made during his tenure at the famous Blue Duck restaurant in Philadelphia before coming to work with Bill full time.

Places like Humboldt & Jackson are a rare find in the restaurant scene these days—one whose mission is truly to serve the community, not the ego of a chef or to make money hand over fist for faceless investors. With every new addition to his menu, or every modification to his restaurant, Bill Reed listens to the neighborhood first. And they’re responding.

Earlier this year, some regulars were moving out of their apartment across the street. Before they left, they asked Reed for some spare wood, which he happily gave them. A few days later, they returned with a handmade bench. Etched across the top is the name “Humboldt & Jackson.” The bench, signed “Dem-Boyz,” is now permanently affixed to the exterior of the bar, standing as physical reminder to the dedication the community has to what Reed has built.

If you have never been to Humboldt & Jackson before, I urge you to go. From the moment you step inside, you’ll feel like you have been going there for years.

The All American Double Cheeseburger. Photo by Molly Tavoletti.

Humboldt & Jackson | 434 Graham Ave
Tues-Thurs: 5:00pm – 1:00am, Fri-Sat: 5:00pm – 2:00am, Sun: 5:00pm – 1:00am, Kitchen open late
Happy Hour every day 5-7pm, ½ off tap wine and tap beer + $10 tap cocktails, Twisted Tuesdays: $10 tap cocktails all night, Whiskey Wednesdays: $5 off whiskey flights all night

Jackson is one half of The Brothers Buoy who host a monthly bingo night at Humboldt & Jackson called Buoy Bingo. Molly Tavoletti is a freelance writer, photographer and runs the interview series Across a Table.

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